Illinois Harassment Through Electronic Communication

The Law – 720 ILCS 5/26.5-3

A person commits harassment through electronic communications when he or she uses electronic communication for any of the following purposes:

  1. Making any comment, request, suggestion or proposal which is obscene with an intent to offend; or
  2. Interrupting, with the intent to harass, the telephone service or the electronic communication service of any person; or
  3. Transmitting to any person, with the intent to harass and regardless of whether the communication is read in its entirety or at all, any file, document, or other communication which prevents that person from using his or her telephone service or electronic communications device; or
  4. Transmitting an electronic communication or knowingly inducing a person to transmit an electronic communication for the purpose of harassing another person who is under 13 years of age, regardless of whether the person under 13 years of age consents to the harassment, if the defendant is at least 16 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense; or
  5. Threatening injury to the person or to the property of the person to whom an electronic communication is directed or to any of his or her family or household members; or
  6. Knowingly permitting any electronic communications device to be used for any of the purposes mentioned above.

What is “Harassment?”

"Harass" or "harassing" means knowing conduct which is not necessary to accomplish a purpose that is reasonable under the circumstances that would cause a reasonable person emotional distress and does cause emotional distress to another.

What is “Electronic Communication?”

"Electronic communication" means any transfer of signs, signals, writings, images, sounds, data or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photoelectric or photo-optical system. "Electronic communication" includes transmissions through an electronic device including, but not limited to, a telephone, cellular phone, computer, or pager, which communication includes, but is not limited to, e-mail, instant message, text message, or voice mail.

While Illinois has long had laws in place prohibiting harassment by telephone, Illinois passed a new law in 2013 prohibiting harassment through other forms of electronic communication. While “electronic communication” is broad for the purposes of this law, it also specifically includes some of the most common form of communication today, including: texts, e-mails and voice mails.

The law prohibits activity that is commonly associated with “harassment,” but also prohibits activity that would not commonly be considered “harassment.” As listed above, transferring files or documents that would prevent a person from using their electronic communication device would qualify as Harassment through Electronic Communication, although many individuals may not necessarily consider the act “harassment.” An example of this would be sending a file, via email, that contained a virus which causes the recipient’s computer, mobile phone or tablet from operating or functioning properly.

While an individual may consent to the actions above, thereby negating any criminal liability, that individual must be 13 years old or older. Therefore, if a 12 year old consents to being transmitted any of the above communications and the sender is at least 16 years old, the sender may still be charged and convicted of Harassment through Electronic Communications. In fact, this very action would raise the offense from a misdemeanor to a felony. Finally, a second or subsequent violation of this law mandates a minimum jail term of 14 days or 240 hours of community service.

The Sentence

First Offense

Class B Misdemeanor

  • Up to 180 days in county jail
  • Fine of up to $1,500

Second or Subsequent violation

Class A Misdemeanor

  • Up to 364 days in county jail
  • Fine up to $2,500
  • Mandatory Minimum 14 days in county jail or 240 hours of community service

Class 4 Felony if:

  1. The person has 3 or more prior violations in the last 10 years of harassment by telephone, harassment through electronic communications, or any similar offense of any other state; or
  2. The person has previously violated the harassment by telephone provisions, or the harassment through electronic communications provisions, or committed any similar offense in any other state with the same victim or a member of the victim's family or household;
  3. At the time of the offense, the offender was under conditions of bail, probation, conditional discharge, mandatory supervised release or was the subject of an order of protection, in this or any other state, prohibiting contact with the victim or any member of the victim's family or household;
  4. In the course of the offense, the offender threatened to kill the victim or any member of the victim's family or household;
  5. The person has been convicted in the last 10 years of a forcible felony;
  6. The person violates paragraph (4) as listed in the law; or
  7. The person was at least 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense and the victim was under 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense.
  • 1 to 3 years in state prison
  • Fine of up to $25,000

Probation Possible? Yes.

Supervision Possible? Yes, on Misdemeanor offenses.

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